The sticker-bomb attack on an Israeli embassy car in Delhi and the soft coup in Maldives, supported by Islamic extremists, show how sadly out of touch India’s foreign policy establishment is about the challenges facing the country from Islamic extremism and global powerplays.
India’s policy responses have been inadequate since they flow from non-strategic thinking, and a vain belief that our neighbours will see the benefit of peaceful cooperation and progress. But this is simply not true. Certainly not with China, Pakistan and that autonomous force called Islamic fundamentalism.
Two simple illustrations will help illustrate this point.
In the car-bomb case, Israel has accused Iran of being behind the attack. We have, so far, rightly refrained from falling for this, but no matter what turns out to be the truth, we need to ask ourselves one thing: how has our kowtowing to the Islamic world benefited us? We can say cheap oil – but neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia is in the business of selling us cheap oil. But even while profiting from selling us their oil, they follow policies driven by Islamism that are against our interests in Kashmir and in the rest of India.
In the Maldives, an island country with barely 400,000 people, recent developments have been largely anti-India in content. In the rioting that preceded the ouster of the country’s first democratically-elected president, Mohammed Nasheed, guess what the rioters targeted: a museum with Indian artifacts.
The Washington Post, quoting AP reports, notes that the Maldives’ national museum reopened on Tuesday minus all its pre-Islamic era exhibits. “About 35 exhibits — mostly images of the Buddha and Hindu gods — were destroyed.”
According to museum director Ali Waheed, 99 percent of the Maldives’ pre-Islamic artifacts from before the 12th century, when most inhabitants were Buddhists or Hindus, were destroyed. “Some of the pieces can be put together but mostly they are made of sandstone, coral and limestone, and they are reduced to powder,” he said.
Even worse was Waheed’s explanation for the vandalism. According to an ABC News report, Waheed said the attackers did not understand that the museum exhibits were not promoting other religions in this Muslim country. So, clearly, even in tiny Maldives, extremism is alive and well.
And big powers inimical to India are fishing in the Maldives.
An Indian Express interview with deposed President Mohammed Nasheed quotes him as saying that his army was in favour of a defence pact with China. Why does Maldives need a defence pact? And against whom? India?
In fact, senior defence officers told Nasheed he had to sign the China defence agreement. “I had the paper on my desk two weeks back to approve the agreement. The MNDF (Maldivian National Defence Force) had sent it three months ago also but I refused to sign it. They sent it again saying that I have to sign it,” said Nasheed.
So why did India acquiesce in the replacement of Nasheed by his deputy? To give China a free run in the neighbourhood? Do we really know where our interests lie?
Now, the car bomb base. Thanks to India’s large Muslim population, our foreign policy has been skewed towards appeasing domestic Muslim sentiment by seeming to be friendly with all the murderous regimes of West Asia instead of creating long-term alliances that are truly in our interest.
In this case, it should be obvious to anyone that India’s strategic interests are most tied to Israel, which faces the same kind of hostile neighbourhood that India does – though it bears repeating that we have done nothing to deserve anyone’s enmity, while Israel has.
India’s friendship may even help Israel follow a less brutally repressive regime in Palestine – but that is another story. For now, we will focus on our hostile neighbourhood.
Between Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives, only Bhutan really counts as a friendly neighbour – and it almost does not count.
This does not mean all the others are our enemies, but it does mean we need to have a separate policy for each one of them. China is making its moves everywhere, and so is Pakistan (or Pakistan-based Islamic groups). China’s bid for a defence pact in the Maldives — which can have no target but India — shows what’s going on. Add the Islamic thrust of the Maldivian rebels, and it is not difficult to see how both China and Islamic groups may be involved.
If we assume that Pakistan is always going to be an enemy, and China an ever-present military threat and half-enemy, it figures that we have to get the rest of our policies right, apart from the larger geopolitical alignments.
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